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Improve Your Well-Being at Work

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Dr. Mirgain on NBC-15

Dr. Mirgain discusses how to cultivate a sense of well-being at work. Watch the interview


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Dr. Shilagh Mirgain offers ways to improve your well-being at work.

Madison, Wisconsin – Do you jump out of bed in the morning and look forward to the day ahead? Or, do you hit the snooze and only look forward to the weekend? If it's the latter, you're in good company.


The average American works almost 47 hours a week, but 87 percent admit to being disengaged. That's a lot of time spent doing something you really don't want to do. But unless you're independently wealthy, there aren't many alternatives. So how do you go from dreading the day to looking forward to what's ahead -- and does it really matter?


From an employee perspective - while many may think work is something to be endured, it comes at a cost to our emotional, mental and even physical health. From an employer's perspective – employees who are engaged at work have fewer sick days and are more productive, which can help the company become more profitable. For both sides, there is a lot to be gained when employees look forward to their days. But, it can take some effort. To help, UW Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, offers four tips that can have a profound effect.


Find Your Purpose


While we work for the paycheck, many of us want work that is meaningful. Sometimes the actual job responsibilities provide that sense of purpose – being a nurse or a teacher – but often, we have to create that sense of purpose for ourselves.

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"I call this the 'bloom where you are planted' phenomenon," comments Mirgain.


And, research shows that it is meaning, not pay, that motivates us to skip the snooze and get going on our days. Mirgain shares the example of custodians at a major academic hospital. Researchers found that although their job duties did not include helping patients or clinical staff, many felt part of their roles included helping provide comfort to patients and family members. And it was this aspect that gave their jobs meaning – feeling as if they were helping to make a difference.


"We can look for ways to make our work more meaningful and engaging, and derive satisfaction from what we are doing," says Mirgain. "It's not about what we do, but how we show up for what we do."


Some people think it takes a job change to help them find satisfaction, only to end up dissatisfied in their new positions. Mirgain explains that first we have to focus on cultivating our sense of well-being so we can carry that with us no matter where we go.


"We have to find the sense of satisfaction inside ourselves," she says.


Make a Ripple


Whether we realize it or not, our actions create a ripple wherever we go. And that can be positive or negative. You're not going to be happy all of the time, and that's okay. But a negative attitude is like a cold virus – it can spread and affect morale. Similarly, a positive attitude can also make a difference. Ultimately, it's our choice for what kind of attitude we're going to bring to the day.


"Every person can be a catalyst for well-being in the workplace," Mirgain says. "Think about being a positive force and treat others how you would want to be treated. Be the change you wish to see in the workplace. All it takes is one or two employees."


Seeking Happiness at Work?

This summer Shilagh Mirgain was a guest on the Today Show where she shared a simple practice to find happiness at work. Watch the video

Consider starting a happiness and well-being challenge among your co-workers. Mirgain's friend did so by asking co-workers to make a commitment for six weeks to follow activities based on the 5:3:1 practice recommended by the Center for Healthy Minds. To help cultivate well-being at work, individuals practiced five minutes of mindfulness, identified three things each day that were positive, and did one kind thing for another. In addition, they were asked to make a commitment to have fun each day and seek out something that contributed to their well-being by bringing a simple smile or by making them laugh.


Committing to positive change doesn't have to be that organized; even making a point of complimenting someone can go a long way.


Quiet the Noise


When we're at work, we are bombarded with distractions and information overload. Constant interruptions, managing different personalities, juggling deadlines can leave us feeling wiped out by the end of the day. And, it's easy to bring this stress home where it affects our family life, too. We can get stuck in reactive mode, and that's when it's time to take a break.


"When we are overwhelmed, we lose touch with the moment and get lost in thought and emotion," explains Mirgain. "When we're in that place, we tend to be reactive, which can lead to poor decisions and even conflict." She notes that one thing we can control is how we choose to react.


"Stop every hour and do three deep breaths, or one minute of focused breathing," she recommends. "And when you feel yourself becoming reactive, use the simple breathing exercise to help you pause. When you do, you'll make better decisions and will be better able to think through your response to situations and people."


Get Moving


Many jobs require us to sit for long hours throughout the day. But studies have found this sedentary behavior increases the risk for developing cardiovascular conditions, cancer, diabetes and more. And regular exercise isn't enough to compensate. The challenge is that standing all day isn't good either as it can lead to back and foot problems and even carotid artery disease.


The formula, some researchers believe, is to incorporate small breaks of activity throughout the day. New wellness standards even suggest moving three minutes for every 60 minutes that you sit. But taking a break, stretching and moving can improve focus and concentration and even help us be more productive.

Date Published: 10/13/2015

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